After a popular manufacturer closed, Jen McMillan saw her chance to fill a hole in the market—and she’s doing it with help from fellow small business owners. Photography credit: Sarah Knowles.
This month, Jenn McMillan is celebrating the 1-year anniversary of her company Sew Fine Thread Gloss, proving that a little help from your friends can go a long way in growing a business. The company offers beeswax-based thread conditioners that help avoid thread snags, frays, and tangles when doing any kind of handwork. Jenn’s goal is simple: help make hand-sewing a more enjoyable process.
Jenn soft launched her company at the end of 2017 right after Thread Heaven, a popular manufacturer of thread conditioner for over 20 years, closed. “A lot of sewists and quilters voiced their concern over not having their favorite little blue cubes anymore,” she tells us. “There was a hole in the market, so I made the decision to fill that hole with a naturally-based product that sewists had been using for generations. It just made sense!”
Jenn had been using beeswax as a thread conditioner for years, adding her own scents for fun. Now she was able to focus on tweaking the formula. She decided to source her beeswax locally in Canada, filtering it only once to keep as many of its properties intact as possible. “You can feel good about using a product that is long-lasting and over 90% natural,” she points out.
After Jenn figured out the perfect formula, the next step was testing the conditioner. That’s where her fellow small businesses came in. “I was lucky that my LQS [local quilt shop] was willing to let me trial my product to their customers,” Jenn says. Thanks to that positive feedback, Jenn officially launched Sew Fine Thread Gloss in January of 2018.
While many businesses start solely with retail, Jenn immediately depended on other businesses to stock and sell her product. “I knew at the beginning that wholesaling to independent quilt shops was going to be the best way to reach a wide audience of users,” she says. “That is why the wholesale portion of my business has been there since launch.”
Working with other businesses is also important for Jenn because Sew Fine Thread Gloss is her side hustle. Jenn holds down a full-time job as a graphic designer, and she does everything for Sew Fine from mixing the scent batches to hand pouring each pot into the tins. “It’s the epitome of a side-hustle!” she says. “The majority of work happens after my kids go to bed–whether it’s production, fulfilling orders, or working on my website and social media.”
Indie companies also help Jenn find new customers at trade shows. “Logistically, because my product is so small, the cost of a booth at a trade show as well as the associated logistical costs would far outweigh the revenue I’d take in,” Jenn says. “And, it would take a LOT of ½ oz. tins to fill a 10′ x 10′ booth space!”
Instead, a few of Jenn’s stockists bring their supply of Sew Fine to shows to sprinkle among their own products. Jenn says the response has been very positive.
Jenn is trying another type of advertising this year, too. Sew Fine is one of the new Handwork Lounge sponsors at QuiltCon this year, so attendees can swing by to try out the conditioner alongside other fun tools and products.
Outside trade shows, Jenn also started collaborating with individual designers. She recently finished her very first designer collaboration with Carolyn Friedlander to create new scents, and Jenn is already planning her next designer collaboration.
To stay motivated when the side hustle feels overwhelming, Jenn loves reading all the wonderful Instagram posts and messages that customers send her way. “It makes me really happy to know that each little tin is helping people enjoy their handwork that much more!”
Ashley Little is a craft writer and knitting/crochet technical editor by day, serial crafter by night. She is a regular contributor for Bluprint and the author of Chunky Knits. You can find more of Ashley’s work at TheFeistyRedhead.com.